DMU researcher helps protect public health following Ebola crisis

A researcher from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) has been working in Sierra Leone to improve public health standards after the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 left thousands of citizens there at risk of disease.

Umar Anjum, a Parasitology PhD student at DMU’s Leicester School of Allied Health Sciences, has been working in partnership with the University of Makeni (UNIMAK), training academics and teaching public health students how to identify parasites using novel online teaching resource DMU e-Parasitology.

Umar in Sierra Leone 2

“We want to make sure people in Makeni have a basic awareness of parasitology and techniques used to diagnose parasite-related diseases,” said Umar. “Survivors of Ebola, particularly children and older people, have weakened immune systems so it is important that we educate people about how parasites can lead to disease.”

With more than 14,000 cases and almost 4,000 deaths recorded, the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone was the second-largest outbreak of the disease ever known.

“People in Sierra Leone are still really suffering from the Ebola outbreak,” said Umar. “Not only do survivors face stigma and discrimination, the general population is also at risk from becoming ill from parasites and diseases.

“It feels as though they are about 100 years behind the UK when it comes to diagnosing and preventing diseases.”

DMU e-Parasitology is a dedicated website designed to help students in the field of biomedical science gain easy access to a number of learning resources. These include e-learning modules with short tests, e-learning modules on the topic of laboratory tools and a virtual microscope to look in closer detail at high resolution parasite images.

As well as delivering lectures and providing training at UNIMAK, Umar also spent time in the city of Makeni looking for parasites that could pose a risk to human health. He gathered samples from the environment, poultry farms, beaches and riversides.

Umar in Sierra Leone

His work in Sierra Leone was funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which supports research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

“The visit to Sierra Leone has helped me develop more confidence and will definitely help me with my work in Leicester,” he continued. “I’ve gained experience in teaching and that has enhanced my own learning and development. I’m now overseeing placement students and Master’s students here at DMU.”

Umar, whose PhD research is looking at detecting emerging parasites in Leicestershire, also had an opportunity to work with virology specialist Dr Raoul Emeric at UNIMAK’s Infectious Disease Research Laboratory – a dedicated lab set up to detect and diagnose Ebola and HIV in collaboration with scientists from Cambridge University.

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VC2020 academics Dr Antonio Peña-Fernández and Dr María Berghs are both directors of the GCRF at DMU.

Dr Peña-Fernández, who is also supervising Umar’s PhD studies, said: “Umar has made an amazing contribution to rebuilding public health capacity post-Ebola in Makeni. He has gained invaluable skills and is now using his experience to enhance his work here in Leicester, which is looking at emerging parasites across the county.”

Dr Berghs added: “We hope to develop interventions to protect public health and educate people about the importance of recognising the risk that emerging parasites can pose to human health.”

Posted on Wednesday 3rd July 2019

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